Sunday, 10 October 2010

Carl Jung, D. H. Lawrence & I talk about being natural ~

These two very influential men of the 20th century, so widely different in their lives and no doubt many of their views, had something important in common: for both of them natural expression was of central significance in human life, the act of life fulfilling itself perhaps.

Here is what Jung had to say about it:
It is the truth, a force of nature that expresses itself through me - I am only a channel - I can imagine in many instances where I would become sinister to you.  For instance, if life had led you to take up an artificial attitude, then you wouldn't be able to stand me, because I am a natural being.  By my very presence I crystallize; I am a ferment.  The unconscious of people who live in an artificial manner senses me as a danger.  Everything about me irritates them, my way of speaking, my way of laughing.  They sense nature.
This excerpt is quoted in "Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul, an illustrated biography" (page 2) by Claire Dunne.  He was then in his sixties. There is a great deal else about this sort of thing in this remarkable book, but that seems to place the essence of it in a nutshell.

Curiously, Claire Dunne has dedicated her book " the seeker in each one of us and to that which seeks us."  That's a thought provoking statement: 'to that which seeks us'...  Hmm, I like it: not those who seek us, but that which seeks us.

In Chapter XVI of the novel "Mr Noon", D. H. Lawrence gives us his view as expressed through the character of Gilbert.  On this occasion Gilbert has been caught in a situation of considerable awkwardness and embarrassment in a small town in Germany some one hundred or so years ago:
     Poor Gilbert stumbled with his French.  The two men eyed one another.  The Baron was rather elegant and comme il faut, with his hair and his moustaches on end.  He was small, but carried himself as if he were big.  His manners had that precise assertiveness of a German who is sure of himself and feels himself slightly superior.  These manners always petrified Gilbert into rigidity.  Only his eye remained clear and candid.  He looked at the Baron with this curious indomitable candour, and the Baron glanced back at him rather fierily and irritably.  So, like two very strange dogs, they stood in the window and eyed one another, and Gilbert stuttered hopeless French.  He sounded like an unmitigated clown: only the insuperable candid stillness of his dark-blue eye saved him at all.  But the Baron was impatient... 
     Now Gilbert had this one saving advantage.  He went so stiff and absent in wrong company that he seemed an absolute imbecile.  No one can blame the Baron for calling him, when affairs grew hot, later on, an ungebildeter Simpel, a gewohnlicher Lump: very nasty things to be called: uneducated simpleton, and common lout.  Common lout is especially nasty; yet it was not, from one point of view, unapt.  And still, though in every other bit of him the young gentleman became a semi-imbecile, still, in the middle of his eye remained a certain impregnable self-possession, candour, and naturalness.  Now, the Baron had long lost his own candour and naturalness, therefore when he saw it so quiet in the middle of Gilbert's dark-blue eyes, like the evening star showing on a stormy sky, he was unsettled, he felt he must call names.  And poor Rudolf had so absolutely lost his self-possession, that he saw in Gilbert a strange menace: this thin, this silent individual, this raven of woe, as the poem later on put it...
Clearly being natural did not make life one bit easier for either Lawrence or Jung, at least in a social sense, yet to both of them it remained essential.  I agree.   

One sees artificiality everywhere.  Perhaps it's my advancing years, but it seems to be increasingly prevalent, in people's faces, in their ways of life, in the things we see in the shops.  Sometimes when I've had the misfortune to be in shopping malls everyone there has seemed to look like caricatures of themselves, certainly an unnerving observation.  Who's really at home in them, or is the whole thing not so much the theatre of life as a charade about it? 

Perhaps predictably one sees it particularly in advertising: the fixed, rather staring eyes, the wide toothy smiles which hold no happiness, while touting happiness, in the form of holidays, air travel, biscuits, air fresheners and so on.  Glamorous maybe, but that's all!

One sees it also in the rigidity and automated gestures and responses that accompany so much of the violence that passes both for news as well as entertainment these days: things exploding everywhere and disasters beyond a scale that we can comprehend, yet in a sort of emotional vacuum, or just plain hysteria.  We sit and watch them while we eat our dinner.  I find this more alarming than the disasters themselves.  Where possible I watch neither.  I do what I can for the common good, and beyond that I have other better things with which to feed my mind and imagination.

I recently had occasion to consult a doctor I hadn't seen for perhaps ten years but who I nonetheless hold in very high regard.  It was such a relief to find that he, his practice nurse and the receptionist, all of whom I remembered with affection, were still much as I remembered them: older, certainly, but so am I, but still natural, helpful and kindly.  It's so unusual, which is sad.  They seemed mildly surprised at my effusive appreciation.

Being natural isn't always pleasant of course.  If it's truly natural it includes the expression of a certain amount of volatility and pain, but for myself, I prefer it.  Not only do I need a certain amount of space for this myself, but I'd rather other people did the same.  I prefer to know what people really think and feel when they're with me, because then I can deal with that, whereas if I don't know and yet sense that things aren't quite as they appear I become uneasy.  

Too much niceness throws me off balance.  There is a sense of pretence which indicates that people aren't trusting each other, or maybe they're not trusting themselves.  

On the other hand, being subjected to the aggression which can result from expressing one's natural state in the presence of those who who are not functioning in a similar way can be upsetting, perhaps because others are continuing to conceal themselves behind a mask of artificiality.  One feels unfairly got at, which can be painful.

Gilbert knows this sort of situation exactly.  Here is how the passage above continues:
     Well, the raven of woe said Guten Abend to the blue-eyed, bald-fronted young captain, and took his departure.  A solitary and hopping raven, he went through the Frenchy, raspingly-Germanised streets of the city till he found a restaurant where he could go in and eat.  And even then, when at the end of the meal the waiter said Fruit ou fromage? - he only answered with a troubled stare.
     "Fruit ou fromage?" repeated the waiter, raising his voice.
     A troubled stare from friend Gilbert.
     "Obst oder Kase?" snapped the waiter.
     A look of greater bewilderment.
   "Obst oder Kase?  Fruit ou fromage?  Obst oder Kase?" shouted the waiter in exasperation.
     Two consternated blue eyes and a slightly open, pouting mouth, and a brow of agony, for answer.
     "Imbecile!" muttered the waiter, and flounced away. 
      Gilbert understood this. 
     Back came the waiter, and bounced a piece of gorganzola uncompromisingly under imbecile's nose.  And then Gilbert heard it all - Fruit ou fromage - Obst oder Kase - He heard it all, and he recognised the appalling sounds as perfectly familiar words.  But something had gone wrong with his works, and he only just had enough wits to remember that the word cafe meant a black substance, usually liquid, in a small cup. 
     He hurried away from the restaurant, feeling that he was really going beyond himself in the direction of idiocy.  Detsch was really taking off a skin too many.  
This description of Gilbert's reaction is comforting to me in that it's very familiar.  The effect can  so easily be to make one feel weak, foolish or just plain vulnerable and on an unconscious level I'm sure this is deliberate: the natural being has broken ranks and must be punished or at least be made to feel uncomfortable.  This is how groups and societies control non-conformists, by threatening to isolate them, starting on an emotional level.  

In advocating greater expression of the human state I am not for one minute suggesting that anyone disregard the feelings of another by carelessly expressing themselves in a hurtful way.  To communicate well in a natural way requires far more skill and consideration than what passes for communication in a general sense.  This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but most essential truths come down in the end to apparent paradox and I'll let my point rest as it is, for the meantime anyway.

Both books are favourites of mine.  The one about Jung I've reviewed in my article "Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul".

Among D. H. Lawrence's writings "Mr Noon" is little known.  It was written in two parts, only the first of which was published in his lifetime.  Part Two was not discovered until the early 70s, some fifty years after the publication of its predecessor.  The two parts are only loosely linked and can be read separately.  Part Two is a rough first draft, all the more endearing to me for its rambling tangential content and chiding asides to prospective readers!  It's not going to be to everyone's taste, but for me it is a jewel of reassurance in an increasingly uncertain and dissociated world.  The characters have their difficulties and disasters, but I found them immensely lifelike and likeable even when they were behaving with considerable eccentricity.  Lawrence's lyrical descriptions of the German countryside as it was then, are beautiful and heart-warming, at the same time as his descriptions of massed armed forces performing military exercises are full of foreboding.  My only disappointment with it is that it trails off after Gilbert and Johanna reach Italy, and ends abruptly in mid-sentence, but this final inconsistency has to be part of the book's charm.  Part Two is the story about the forming of a relationship between Gilbert and Johanna, a lightly disguised version of the early part of Lawrence's relationship with Frieda, the German woman who became his wife.

One other quote from this book can be found in a brief entry in one of the other Rushleigh Chronicles which for some reason has drawn repeated viewings.  For those who are interested here is the link: "Idealism and Forbearance".  Both books are full of quotable material.

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
I can't imagine why this book has such an awful cover.  My very battered old paperback has a  much better one.
Mr. Noon

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